Dona Spring dreams of visiting Point Reyes, something the 55-year-old Berkeley councilmember has never done before. After rheumatoid arthritis left Spring wheelchair bound in 1972, weekend getaways have been few and far between.
That could change with today’s (Tuesday) launch of AccessMobile—the nation’s first wheelchair-accessible car share van—by Bay Area-based non-profit City CarShare at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center.
The new van will be shared by city employees and disabled City CarShare members Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and available to all City CarShare members on evenings and weekends.
The specially designed fuel-efficient AccessMobile Dodge Grand Caravan—which can carry six seated passengers and one wheelchair comes with a $50,000 price tag.
Berkeley used $25,000 in award money from winning the 2007 National Organization on Disability’s Accessible American contest to split the cost with City CarShare, which matched the amount.
“It just made sense,” City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson said. “We were looking at how to expand our services to senior centers, low-income and moderate income families, and this seemed like a great first step. But we don’t want to compete with public transportation. Before people jump into any of our cars, we make sure they have explored other alternatives, such as biking, walking or the bus.”
Disabled residents who don’t have a driver’s license will also be able to register as members, as long as they have a family member or an attendant to drive them around, Hutchinson said.
City CarShare spokesperson Anita Daley said that disabled members of the community would not be subject to a screening process or required to have any prerequisites.
A disabled City CarShare member will have to pay $6.50 per hour to use the AccessMobile—which includes gas, insurance and maintenance, Hutchinson said.
“Anything that includes the disabled is good but this just seems a bit elitist,” said Dan McMullan of Disabled People Outside, who gets around Berkeley on a wheelchair. “I would like to see the city use the money to reign in on the services they already have, such as the Taxi Scrip and discount fares for BART and buses.”
The city’s Paratransit Services manager Angellique DeCoud said she revised the Taxi Scrip program in 2005 to make it more available to disabled residents.
DeCoud sends out $120-vouchers every four months to seniors and wheel chair-bound people, which they can use to pay for taxi rides.
“Some people take rides which cost $5 and others travel further, which costs more money,” she said. “Once the amount on your free voucher is up, you have to pay out of your own pocket.”
When no City CarShare spots are available behind the Civic Center at 2180 Milvia St. to park the van, Spring has given permission for the van to use her personal parking spot.
Spring also worked on the design, making sure the rear of the van could be accessed by wheelchairs.
“I am so excited about the possibility of a day trip to Point Reyes,” she said smiling. “Oh, to just be able to go down by the beach.”
Spring uses access-friendly taxi cabs, which she said were efficient but expensive.
“It costs $15 to just go to the doctor, and nearly $100 to go to Fort Mason in San Francisco,” she said. “I can’t use Para Transit, it just involves too much driving around and waiting. This van will be more accessible for 85 percent of Berkeley’s disabled population, who need their own van only 85 percent of the time. It’s very liberating.”
CarShare for Berkeley
The city got rid of its fleet of 10 cars in 2004 and replaced it with hybrid City CarShare vehicles. The cars are used by councilmembers, the city’s Public Health nurses, traffic engineers and Environmental Health and Housing staff.
More than 180 City of Berkeley employees are enrolled in the city’s CarShare program, said the city’s transportation planner Matthew Nichols.
The city, which pays the standard CarShare rate of $5 per hour and 40 cents per mile for the service, has saved a significant amount of money from the program, about $50,000 per year, he said.
“Not only does the program reduce fleet costs, but it also saves in personal mileage reimbursement costs, and it frees up public parking in the downtown, which supports economic vitality for our merchants,” he said. “The city doesn’t have to pay for gas, insurance, cleaning or maintenance, so we haven’t had to pay for the recent rise in gas prices. Of course, the program also reduces air pollution and Berkeley’s ‘population explosion’ of car ownership.”
To attend the launch, show up at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center, 2180 Milvia St., in the back parking lot today (Tuesday) at 1 p.m.
For more information on the Taxi Scrip program visit:
www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=3992 or call 981-7269.
To become a member of City Carshare visit: www.citycarshare.org or call 352-0323.